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New Research: Gut Bacteria and Cancer Treatment

Green BacteriaSome exciting new research today has been making the headlines across the BBC and other media outlets. The main finding from it indicates that our gut bacteria could have an impact on the effectiveness of cancer treatment.

The Research

Two studies were conducted by French and US researchers who tested the microbiome (a collection of microscopic species that live in us) of cancer patients. They discovered that the overall diversity of this microbiome was linked to the effectiveness of immunotherapy drugs.

What Does the Microbiome Do?

Involved heavily in digestion, these trillions of micro-organisms also help protect us from infection and regulate our immune system.

Results

One of the studies on 249 cancer patients receiving treatment for lung or kidney cancer showed that those that had taken antibiotics for previous infections (such as tooth or similar) had damaged their microbiome and were more likely to see tumours grow during immunotherapy.

The second study analysed the microbiome of 112 patients with advanced melanoma. One particular species of bacteria was present in 69% of patients that did respond to treatment. Those that tended to respond also had a higher diversity of microbiome than those who did not.

Different bacteria had different effects too - some appeared to be more beneficial than others and there appeared to be more cancer-killing cells in the tumours of the people with beneficial bacteria.

Implications

This research is thought to have wide implications. Namely, that by changing to a more favourable microbiome we could increase the effectiveness with which patients respond to cancer treatment.

Could microbiome manipulation be the key to improving the treatment of the 21st century’s most prolific disease? We hope so.

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